When you think “industrial automation” you may visualize robotic arms putting cars together on an assembly line.
The field is about so much more than that. Industrial automation covers everything from robotics to the tiny devices that run them.
A more formal definition of industrial automation is “the field of computer controlled systems and robotic devices used within industrial and commercial facilities to reduce human intervention and maximize efficiency.”
Skills Sets and Job Titles
Working in this industry requires a range of skills in electronics, mechanics, and computers:
- Software development and programming
- Complex system test performance
- Creative thinking and mastery of details
- Excellent manual dexterity
- Strong communication skills
Some of the job titles you might see include the word technician or engineer. You could become an automation technician, a manufacturing technician, or a machine technician. However, you are not limited to repair and maintenance roles. You also could become a technical sales representative or an engineer in R&D.
Why Pursue a Career in Industrial Automation?
One of the main reasons to go into industrial automation is because automation surrounds us and will continue to grow as a field. The trend in manufacturing and other industries is to automate rather than add physical labor to the process. The need for someone to maintain and repair automated devices continues to grow.
Another is that these devices will become obsolete and need replacing with a better product, requiring not just someone who can replace the old with the new but someone who can develop a more advanced product. The cycle is self-perpetuating.
Have you heard of the Internet of Things? The playground for an industrial automation engineer or technician is expanding every day. According to a report called, “Global Industrial and Factory Automation Market Analysis and Forecast,” the market for industrial automation equipment and services could grow at a compounded annual rate of 7% by 2018. That is higher than the estimated growth rate of any other U.S. industry except infrastructure.
Vendors in hardware and services plan to increase factory capabilities and expand teams, so the need is real. The pay is nice, too. The mean annual wage for an industrial engineering technician in 2014 was $56,000 while in the same year, electrical and electronic engineering technicians averaged $60,330. Automation engineers earned $103,000.
Options and Educational Requirements
The field of automation is extremely diverse, so you are better off being an expert in a particular part of the field. Education programs are available for specializing in electrical engineering, instrumentation, and industrial controls.
Earning a Bachelor’s degree to become an engineer will provide you with practical skills are included such learning how to program instructions into an automated device, mend electrical circuits, or design a control mechanism. You would be eligible for higher positions in engineering technology, applying your new skills to circuit analysis, robotics, or microprocessor programming.
Some schools offer a Bachelor of Technology in control and instrumentation engineering, but pre-professionals also benefit from learning about automation, instrumentation of machinery, and computer controls.
To get a position as a technician, you can earn an Associate’s degree in two years and prepare for an entry level position. Many programs give you the option to study a particular aspect of engineering technology. You learn common industry symbols, measurement techniques, and the basics of maintaining or servicing industrial equipment.
Further studies in these programs include Computer Aided Design (CAD), microprocessor programming, blueprint interpretation, and logic controllers. You could even take a deeper dive into hydraulics, pneumatics, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and human-machine interfaces.
How to Stand Out
Getting on the career track takes more than study and a degree. Employers like to see practical experience out in the “real world.” An internship or other industry experience will make you a more attractive candidate. Internships are also handy for helping you decide which industry to work in; you have options in the food industry, computer companies, electronics manufacturers, and hospitals, just to name a few.
You can also earn certifications from outfits like the International Society of Automation (ISA):
- CCST – Certified Control Systems Technician
- CAP – Certified Automation Professional
- CSE – Control Systems Engineer (a licensing program)
Other professional organizations are available besides the ISA. There are the Automation Federation, the Measurement, Control, and Automation Association, the Robotic Industries Automation (RIA), and others.
Industrial automation has been with us since the Industrial Revolution. The field continues to grow and provide jobs in a wide variety of industries. If you have been thinking about working in industrial automation, now is a good time to start your education.
Written by Jeff Conner, Control Concepts
With over 25 years of experience in the industrial automation repair industry, Jeff Conner is the Dallas Service Manager for Control Concepts and serves on the Advisory Committee for the Electronics Technologies Department at Texas State Technical College. Control Concepts offers around the clock service and support anywhere you need it. To learn more, visit http://www.controlconceptstexas.com